paultaraphotoDuring my June “Ask about Art Licensing Call”  I interviewed art licensing industry veteran, Paul Brent.  One of the questions we answered from an artist was, “When an artist is starting out, is it better to do licensing or selling your art?” Paul responded basically “do one OR the other” not both.  This caused some confusion so I thought I would clear up the issue in a bit more detail.

What does it mean to be a “selling artist” or “selling your art”.  Are they the same thing?

This is one of those cases were making sure everyone has the same definition is key.
Does it mean selling original art as in a gallery setting?
Does it mean selling art for the fine art print market?
Does it mean selling art to manufacturers?

When Paul Brent answered the question, when he referred to being a ‘selling artist’ he meant selling a piece outright to a manufacturer.  For a set amount of money, the manufacturer buys the art and all copyrights associated with it.  Some manufacturers and industries will only buy art.  They want to pay up front for a design and walk away with it — all copyrights included.  Then they can take it, tear it apart, change colors, put anyone’s name on it, etc.  It becomes theirs completely, you as the artist create something new.  You can not use the piece of art in any other way or version, you start over.

So that is “selling your art”.  Many artists like this format.  They create, they get paid, they move on.

But artists like Paul Brent and myself have a different way of doing business.  We prefer to “license” our art.  Licensing means we retain the copyrights and control of our art.  We “license” the rights to manufacturers, through written contracts, to use our art on their products for a certain period of time.  The goal is to license the rights to the same art to many manufacturers so you can earn a nice living.

Traditionally, licensing contracts are based on royalties so artists are paid based on sales.  That means you wait, sometimes 12-18 months to be paid, but you share in the risk and reward of the product.  If the product does well, you should make a lot more in royalties than you would be paid if you simply sold a design.  If it doesn’t do well, you may make less.

“Licensing your art” means you can use your art more than once, you retain the copyrights and you have to wait a little longer to see the money. But once you get projects in the pipeline, you can earn a nice income.

So what is this “flat fee licensing” and how is it different from selling art?

To my way of looking at it, flat fee licensing is like a hybrid car – it has some things in common with selling art and some things in common with licensing.  The contract is like a licensing agreement (products the art will go on, time frame for the usage, you retain copyright) but instead of a royalty percentage, you both agree to a set fee.  The key difference between this and selling your art is that you still maintain the rights to use the art in other areas, you have simply agreed to an amount of money you make up front.

So with the subtle yet key differences between selling and flat fee licensing explained, I agree with Paul Brent’s answer to the question.  It would be hard to both sell and license your art unless you have two looks, two names and good organization so you know what you did with each piece!

To learn more about art licensing from artist Paul Brent, visit www.AskPaulBrent.com and listen to his free, one-hour interview about art licensing from March 2009.  You can also purchase the audio from his June 2009 teleseminar, which includes the answer to this question and others, by clicking here.

Here’s to your creative success!

– Tara (& Paul)